With the last week of the regular season upon us, we take a look at the league’s three series taking place this week. Two of this weekend’s matchups pit teams that will meet in their first games at the WCHA Final Five.
The weekend’s other matchup holds some intrigue as it involves the two teams that will not be in Grand Forks, N.D., next week: Minnesota State and St. Cloud State.
Gophers And Badgers To Begin Three-Game Series
All-time Series: Minnesota leads 14-2-1.
This weekend’s matchup between No. 3 Minnesota and No. 6 Wisconsin will be the first of three straight games the teams will play against each other.
The Gophers and Badgers will meet in the WCHA tournament for the fourth consecutive year with Minnesota already assured the higher seed.
Barring a total collapse in their last four games, the Gophers will earn a berth in the NCAA Frozen Four, while Wisconsin, currently sixth in the PairWise Rankings, probably needs to win its next four games while having the Gophers, Dartmouth and New Hampshire fall from the third through fifth spots.
Still, the two teams have developed an intense rivalry in four seasons and, with their biggest meeting of the season still to come, this weekend’s series at the Capital Ice Center should prove interesting.
As they say, familiarity breeds contempt.
At first glance, the Badgers would seem to have a slight edge this weekend. In Minnesota’s 3-1, 2-1 sweep earlier this season, Wisconsin was without the services of sophomore defenseman Carla MacLeod, and both senior defensemen Sis Paulsen and Kerry Weiland missed a game as well.
Last weekend’s sweep at Ohio State, which extended the Badgers’ unbeaten streak to nine games, was the first time this season Wisconsin has had its full complement of players available.
The Gophers, on the other hand, have been limited to just 16 skaters the last two weeks due to an injury to freshman Krissy Wendell and the dismissal of sophomore Kristy Oonincx (see story below). However, Minnesota has won three of its last four games with its diminished lineup, including a series split at No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth two weeks ago.
In winning six of the teams’ last seven meetings, the Gophers have limited Wisconsin to just 12 goals. Although the two teams are nearly identical in goal against average, Minnesota ranking eighth nationally at 1.93 with Wisconsin at 1.94, the Gophers are averaging nearly a goal and a half more per game offensively. However, the Badgers seem to have found their offensive touch, scoring 40 goals while winning their last eight games.
What will determine which team has the most success?
As it almost always has in the series, goaltending will likely be the determining factor.
Enjoying her best stretch this season — allowing just 13 goals in her last 10 games — Wisconsin senior Jackie MacMillan is one of the league’s premier goalies, having what may be the best season of her career.
In a 2-1 loss to Minnesota, Nov. 2, she singlehandedly kept the Badgers in game. Despite being outshot 42-13, Wisconsin managed to stay close.
On the opposite end of the ice, Minnesota has sophomores Jody Horak and Brenda Reinen from whom to choose. Horak has established herself as the team’s number one goalie, and got the nod in both meetings with Wisconsin earlier, but Reinen is coming off her first shutout of the season in 4-0 win over Minnesota State. A native of nearby Sun Prairie, Wis., she is also returning home this weekend, where she beat the Badgers in overtime last season.
Buckeyes, Beavers Battle For Seeding
All-time Series: Ohio State leads 7-6-2.
For the second year in a row, Ohio State and Bemidji State will meet in the play-in game at the WCHA Final Five. However, which team gets the last line change in that game will be determined this weekend in Columbus, Ohio, as the teams do battle at OSU Arena.
The Buckeyes lead the Beavers by one point in the standings and need just a split at home this weekend to earn the fourth seed in the league playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
Bemidji State, meanwhile, is looking for its highest league finish in four years, needing a three-point weekend to finish fourth.
Heading into the WCHA tournament, both teams will be looking to gain some momentum, something neither has been able to do during the last month. Both are 2-6-0 over the last four weeks and each has given up double-digit goals in at least one game during that time.
The Buckeyes, at home, may have an advantage, but they are just 5-10-0 at OSU Arena this season.
The goaltending reins at OSU have apparently been turned over to senior April Stojak for the duration of the season. After splitting time with freshman Natalie Lamme through the first 25 games, Stojak has started seven consecutive games.
Bemidji State head coach Bruce Olson heads into the final weekend of the regular season with a decision to make. Although junior Anik Coté has started 16 games and has played 49 percent of the team’s minutes, freshman Jill Leubke, at 2-2-4, is the only goalie without a losing record and senior Bre Dedrickson has started four of the last five games.
A series victory for either team this weekend will make it the odds-on-favorite to advance into the semifinals next weekend, but neither team is expect to give the other anything it doesn’t earn.
Huskies And Mavericks To Wrap Up Season
All-time series: St. Cloud State leads 11-4-1.
Although this weekend’s matchup in Mankato features the league’s bottom two teams, both eliminated from playoff contention, they both have a few things to play for.
After dismal 2001-02 seasons, both have shown improvement in 2002-03 and would like to finish their campaigns on a high note.
The Huskies will be hoping that junior forward Roxy Stang can collect two points on the weekend, which would give her a school-record 88. She is already the school’s all-time record holder with 56 goals.
Minnesota State will say goodbye to its four seniors when they play their final collegiate games. The group is led by forward Tristin Stephenson, who will have one last chance to add to her school records for power-play goals (14), shots (321), points (65) and assists (35).
Also amongst the Maverick seniors is goalie Katie Beauduy, who has collected the only two shutouts of her career since Jan. 1.
And, if nothing else, pride will be on the line, as both are traditional rivals in the North Central Conference, in which the schools are members in all sports besides hockey.
Minnesota’s Oonincx Headed To St. Cloud
The Minnesota Daily reported earlier this week that Gopher sophomore forward Kristy Oonincx, suspended from the team indefinitely since Feb. 6, will transfer to St. Cloud State next season.
A key member of Minnesota’s 2002 WCHA championship squad, which finished third at the NCAA Frozen Four, Oonincx leaves the Gophers after scoring 31 goals and 63 points in 56 games.
Oonincx has stated she will complete the academic term at Minnesota before transferring in the fall.
Recruited by the Huskies before signing with Minnesota in 2001, she stated her relationship with the coaching staff was one of the main reasons for choosing SCSU. She is also a former teammate of Husky freshman defenseman Randie Jelinski.
St. Cloud State head coach Jason Lesteberg is prohibited from commenting on Oonincx until she signs a national letter of intent, which she cannot do until April.
Oonincx is also the first player to transfer within the conference since the WCHA adopted the rule that applies to all of men’s hockey, where a player must sit out one season before becoming eligible. The rule in the WCHA applies only to players transferring from one conference school to another. She will not lose a year of eligibility and will have two seasons to play beginning in the fall of 2004.
Offensive Player of the Week–Jenny Potter, Jr., F, Minnesota-Duluth
Defensive Player of the Week–Jackie MacMillan, Sr., G, Wisconsin
Rookie of the Week–Natalie Darwitz, Fr., F, Minnesota